Jesus Knows and Jesus Acts
OT Reading: Job 1:1-12
In the second half of the 18 th century Samuel Johnson made this memorable quotation:
"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
Death, and the prospect of imminent death, has a way of focusing the mind so that we turn from the unimportant insignificant things in life and concentrate on what really is important to us.
So Jesus shared with his disciples during that final evening he spent with them before his betrayal, suffering and death we have a wonderful opportunity of seeing what was important to him.
The petty bickering of his followers concerning which of them should be considered the greatest might have left Jesus exasperated after all the climax of God’s astonishing plan of salvation was at hand and his closest friends were only interested in questions of relative status!
God’s plan of salvation called for the sacrifice of an innocent and willing victim who would suffer and die not for anything he had done but for the wrongs of others. A painful shameful death would follow the psychological pain of rejection and being misunderstood and it would follow the cruel pain of physical abuse. But the worst pain would be the experience of exposure to the full weight of the divine wrath of a Holy God against the innocent sin-bearer.
Jesus knew what lay ahead and he knew the awesome nature of the path he would have to follow – how understandable it would have been had he been totally self-absorbed as the hour drew ever closer!
Yet Jesus wasn’t self-absorbed. He loved his friends and expressed a most wonderful love and compassion for them. Yes, the major sufferings that lay ahead were for him to bear and he would have to bear them alone but his followers were also about to experience serious trials of their faith too. Conscious of that Jesus took steps to prepare his disciples for those trials.
The verses that are before us this morning speak to us about Jesus’ knowledge and what he did in the light of that knowledge. I trust that we will realise by the time we finish that Jesus was and is a most remarkable man and one that is fully worthy of our faith and trust. It is no burden to follow such a one as the Saviour and Captain of our lives rather it is an immense joy and privilege to do so.
A Brief Overview
We must keep our focus on Jesus.
Luke tells us about a number of things that Jesus knew:
He knew that Satan had set his designs on the disciples and what those designs were
He knew that for a time at least it might appear as though Satan had succeeded
He knew the stubborn, well-meant, foolishness of his followers – in fact he knew them better than they knew themselves
He knew their weaknesses
He knew too his own purposes for them
Knowledge can sometimes be sterile but not so with Jesus. He acted in certain specific ways because of what he knew:
He warned and instructed
He made promises
He was utterly confident
Jesus’ disciples were indifferent to the danger that confronted them. Whatever was to come they were up for it and they believed it too. How confident they were of their own abilities! They thought they could cope – they would never have been arguing about which of them was the greatest if they hadn’t. But how little they really understood themselves and consequently how easily they overestimated their own abilities!
Tenderly, yet with great emphasis, Jesus spoke to Peter:
Lk.22:31 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,"
Peter was the disciple whom we find so often taking the role of leader and spokesman of the other apostles – did he think he was the greatest? The message was not however just for Peter, it was for all of them (in English it looks like Jesus is speaking to Peter alone but the original uses the plural form for "you" in this verse). The message began with what looked like very bad news indeed.
What did it mean? What had prompted Satan to behave like this?
Well the expression "to sift like wheat" is an idiom and it means to serious test. What Satan really wanted to do was to shake the faith out of the disciples by subjecting them to such a stern test that their faith might fail them completely. He wanted to tear the disciples away from their Lord and that definitively.
Jesus knew exactly what Satan wanted and he told his disciples in order to warn them of the great test that was coming their way. The disciples might be ignorant of Satan’s devices at this time but not Jesus and part of what he does with his knowledge is to share it with his friends. He will do more than this but he will not do less.
Does this warning mean that things are getting spiritually out of hand and that Satan is somehow taking charge of what is going on? How Satan would love us to think so! But Satan is not God and has none of the attributes of God. He is not all-powerful, he is not all-knowing , he is not omnipresent and he is by no mean all-wise. What is more, he can never act outside of the permissive will of our God and here he is portrayed as arrogantly seeking permission to act against Jesus’ disciples. It wasn’t the first time he’d acted like this and probably not the last either. His intention is to destroy them but God has other ideas.
But why at this time was Satan so interested by Jesus’ followers?
Well, consider the context. What glorious promises has Jesus just made to his followers? The answer is there in vv.29-30:
"I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
The very things promised by Jesus to his followers are what Satan had forfeited by his rebellion against God, a rebellion which led to him being cast out of heaven. And he didn’t like it. He wanted to oppose it. He wanted to bring about the complete destruction of these men to whom such great promises were made.
Of course this is typical Satanic activity. The same destructive desire drove the serpent in the garden and it motivated Satan in the incident we read about earlier in the Book of Job. But God is the One in control.
In the Book of Job it was the LORD God who drew Satan’s attention to the upright Job – Satan reacted, his intention to destroy Job but in the end he only succeeded in causing God to be glorified.
Here the incident in Luke’s gospel the situation is comparable. This time it is the glorious promise that Jesus made to his disciples that causes Satan to react again with thoughts of hatred and destruction. Again he will fail as his destructive intentions are once more used by God to further his own purposes.
It is our God and Father who is sovereign in all of creation and this authority has been given into the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have reason to be confident – Christians are on the side where victory is assured!
The outcome is certain but the trial will nevertheless be very real.
And for that reason Jesus does not only inform Peter of what is about to happen but he prays for him specifically that his faith may not fail. He prays that Peter’s faith will not run out, that it will not be completely exhausted and extinguished. The trial coming Peter’s way is serious, he will be tested, but he won’t be lost forever because Jesus pledges to pray for him.
v.32 "but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."
Jesus’ prayer is not wishful thinking. So certain is he in the effectiveness of his praying that Jesus makes Peter a promise:
After that blip or yours when you will turn temporarily away from me, your Master, I will restore and give you a new task to complete.
The task Jesus had in store for Peter would be an important one too: Peter would have to strengthen his brothers. Peter the one who will prove to be so weak in himself as his faith trembles will be so restored that he will be able to help others!
Peter is unimpressed
Sure of his own commitment and his own capacities Peter didn’t like what he heard Jesus say. A few minutes before Jesus had spoken about a traitor in the midst and now Peter was convinced that he most definitely wasn’t that man.
Didn’t Jesus know how determined he was to be a good disciple? And so with commendable enthusiasm declared that he was ready to go to prison with Jesus or even to die with him.
But enthusiasm alone simply will not cut it. Did he imagine that Jesus had been joking just now? Did he think that Jesus wasn’t being serious when he suggested that Peter of all people was going to give way under pressure? A greater dose of humility and less confidence in his own abilities would have helped Peter. With more humility he might have cried out to Jesus to help him more, he might have asked for more guidance as to what he ought to do in the hours to come. But no, he thought he knew himself but Jesus knew him better.
So expressing his disbelief about what Jesus has just told him Peter must hear some more precise details about his coming failure. These details will leave a lasting impression upon him. And yet these very details will serve him well. Yes, he will break down in tears as he hears the cock crow and sees Jesus turn to look him straight in the face but these tears will prove to be the productive tears of true repentance. Peter will be brought to see his true state, his true weakness, and his genuine need of Jesus’ gracious help – having touched rock bottom he will be ready to be restored and made the rock Jesus always intended him to be.
Although I’ve been referring to Peter up to now Jesus had spoken to him using his original name of Simon, compassionately using it in double form "Simon, Simon..." Now as Jesus speaks again he does employ the name Peter as he speaks to his troubled follower.
It is interesting that Jesus, having changed Simon’s name to Peter, only addresses his disciple as Peter here. Interesting and ironic because the name ‘Peter’ comes the word for a stone, a rock. The name was to indicate the reliability and dependability of a person and Jesus must tell Peter in no uncertain terms that he is shortly to prove himself to be anything but reliable or dependable.
If people know anything about Peter they know him as the disciple who denied that he even knew his Lord and this not once but three times. As Jesus spoke to Peter these denials were not far off in some distant future – they would take place in the early hours of the following morning, before the cock crowed.
We’ll see in a few weeks time, God willing, that it was Jesus who was right and the self-confident Peter who had badly over-estimated his own bravery and courage. We’ll see too that Peter found the promise of his restoration beyond his wildest dreams. Having failed his Lord so dismally he can’t bring himself to see much of a future for himself in Jesus’ resurrection service but he will be restored just as Jesus promised he would!
But Jesus is confident
But for the moment all that lay ahead. Right now Jesus was on his own. The traitor was already about his treachery - Satan had found a willing ally in Judas. And Satan pressed on wanting to destroy the rest of Jesus’ disciples. Despite his warnings these men still thought Jesus was exaggerating the dangers and the difficulties – they could cope, they were sure of it. They went on failing to take his words seriously. Humanly speaking the situation looked bleak. And it would only become bleaker still.
But Jesus is not depressed or downcast. He is not uncertain as to how everything will turn out in the end. He knows what is to take place and he prays confidently for his proud stubborn disciple. The time will soon come when he will pray for himself in the Garden as the intensity of the spiritual conflict intensifies. But there too, after a struggle we find hard to comprehend, he once more expresses complete confidence that God is in charge and longs for his will to be done.
Lessons to Learn
Jesus knows more than we do! And that includes knowing us better than we know ourselves.
He uses his knowledge wisely and well and to our advantage.
He teaches us and we will be wise to listen and learn.
He prays for us and we may thus look to the future with confidence.
He makes promises to us based on perfect knowledge married to perfect power – his promises will prove solid and secure.
He is generous and kind even to disciples like us who know what it is to mess up – and our failures do not mean that we are ineligible for future usefulness in his service.
He is a Saviour worth trusting and a Lord worth following even when circumstances look unfavourable and when appearances are certainly against us.
He was confident of the victory he has now achieved and all his followers are on the side of victory – the battle has already been won all that remains are the mopping up operations.
If you are a believer this morning then rejoice in your Lord and Saviour for he has indeed done great things for us and promises great things to us.
If you are not yet a believer then stop holding him at arm’s length as though he were somehow an undesirable – he only means to do you good and that for both time and eternity.
And to God be the Glory.